Proposed ESB strike ballot is postponed

 

A planned ballot of 8,500 ESB staff members on strike action before the implementation of an EU directive to deregulate the electricity industry was postponed yesterday.

Staff are concerned about possible job losses if certain functions now carried out by them are farmed out to an independent body this weekend to facilitate competition.

From Saturday, under the directive, more than 300 of the ESB's biggest customers will be able to shop around for cheaper electricity.

The ESB group of unions and management agreed just over a week ago on a draft set of principles for part-privatisation.

However, the unions became alarmed when they received information to the effect that amendments to the draft set of principles were being proposed.

The unions had expected to be presented with a copy of the amended document at its meeting yesterday, but it did not arrive. Now the group is not sure what the proposed changes are but from information received believes the alterations would be totally unacceptable to members.

About 1,300 ESB employees are involved in the maintenance of power lines and fear the jobs of some may be jeopardised if this function is handed over to an independent body.

Another concern is ownership of the high-voltage transmission lines in the national grid. The value of these is said to be about £400 million.

After deregulation, ESB employees will have a 5 per cent shareholding in the company and they are worried that their shares will be devalued if ownership of the national grid is transferred to an independent body.

Yesterday's meeting of the ESB group of unions was adjourned until the unions are furnished with the proposed changes in the draft set of principles they had agreed, a union source confirmed. If the changes do not meet with their approval, workers will be balloted on strike action, the source added.

In a statement later the secretary of the group of unions, Mr Paddy Reilly, said that discussions were in progress in an attempt to resolve the issues without departing from the principles already drafted, and that industrial action had been deferred.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Enterprise said 95 per cent of the issues had been agreed and he hoped agreement on outstanding issues would be reached within the next 48 hours, averting any threat of industrial action.